Nicola Sturgeon announces lifting of 500-person cap on outdoor events in Scotland

The First Minister has been addressing MSPs. Credit: PA Images

The 500-person cap on outdoor events in Scotland introduced in the wake of the Omicron Covid-19 variant will be lifted from Monday

Alongside this, the nation's vaccine passport scheme will be strengthened and the removal of other measures is to be considered over the next few weeks.

These announcements came in a statement to the Scottish Parliament from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who said there were some signs Scotland is "starting to turn the corner" on the Omicron variant spike.

"I can confirm today that the attendance limit of 500 at large-scale outdoor events will be lifted from Monday January 17," she said.

"That means, for example, that spectators will be permitted again at major outdoor sporting events, including football fixtures scheduled for early next week, and the forthcoming Six Nations rugby matches."

Event organisers will now be asked to review 50 per cent or 1,000 vaccine passports of attendees, whichever figure is higher.

The definition of fully vaccinated as pertains to the certification scheme will also be updated from Monday to mean those who are eligible for a third dose and have received it.

These restrictions on outdoor events were introduced last month, along with the closure of nightclubs, the introduction of table service in venues serving alcohol and one-metre distancing in bars, restaurants and indoor leisure venues. These look set to stay in place until at least January 24.

The First Minister told MSPs that up to 30,000 positive cases a day are being recorded, almost half the initial projection of 50,000 per day.

"While the situation, not least for the NHS, remains very challenging, there are some early indications in the data that offer some encouragement. Firstly, while it is always difficult to prove a direct causal link between any specific action or measure and subsequent outcomes, there is reason to be optimistic that protective measures, the behavioural response of the general public and the vaccine programme have helped mitigate to some extent the impact of the Omicron wave.

"For instance, our central projection last month was that new infections could reach 50,000 a day by early January; This has not so far materialised. Instead we estimate that the total number of new infections a day in early January, not just those recorded through positive PCR tests, may have been around 30,000.

"In other words, it is very likely that the situation we face now, though serious, would have been even more challenging without the renewed sacrifices made by people across the country over these last few weeks."

She added though that staff absences continue to be an issue in Scotland and urged people to limit their social interactions.

"We are not advising people to cut all social interaction, Ms Sturgeon said. "That simply isn't practical, and has a serious impact on mental health and wellbeing but trying to limit social interactions remains a sensible step at this stage.

"It helps stem to some extent increases in transmission - and so has a collective benefit."

The First Minister told MSPs that a revised framework for dealing with the virus will be released in the coming weeks and encouraged people to get vaccinated.

She said: "We know that we cannot continually rely on restrictive measures to manage the virus but equally we cannot be indifferent to the continued risks the virus poses to health and wellbeing.

"So we need to consider what adaptations we can make to manage these risks in a way that is much less disruptive to our lives and much less of a daily presence in our minds."

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has criticised the extension of vaccine passports. Credit: PA Images

Douglas Ross - the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, the largest opposition party at Holyrood, praised the behaviour of the population.

He said: “The latest data shows that we are in a far more positive position than the government was expecting. The projections in December have not come to pass. We may have already passed the peak of Omicron.

 “The success of Scotland and the UK’s vaccination scheme is clear. The actions of the general public have worked. People across Scotland got their booster. Took tests. Self-isolated when they needed to. They were cautious to protect their families’ health, and especially careful around the vulnerable.

“That’s why the data is more positive. It’s not because of government restrictions but because of people’s good sense. The people of Scotland got this right, not the government."

Mr Ross also criticised the extension of the vaccine passport programme.

“By now, people understand what’s necessary to combat this virus. We have to trust their judgement more as we move forward," he said.

 “We should now be looking to get a balance that is much more in favour of our economy and wider public health concerns around physical and mental health. That’s why it is so disappointing to see the government again looking to extend the vaccine passport scheme.

Mr Ross claimed that “businesses, jobs and our economy" a would be "hit harder" by the scheme.

He added: “The government cannot even prove that this scheme reduces the spread of the virus. This move will have damaging consequences across our economy.”